The most important thing to consider in hosting a candidates forum is the time and location. It is suggested that candidate forums be held within two months of the election. To be sure there is no conflict on the date you have chosen, contact either major political party or the League of Women Voters for guidance.
Suggested sites for your forum would be the local library, civic center, bank, school or church. It is best to call no less than three weeks in advance of the time you want to hold the forum. Keep in mind parking availability and handicap accessibility. The most desirable hours are from 7:00-9:00 p.m. , making sure that you start and end on time.
Another important item to remember is to ADVERTISE THE EVENT. Hand printed flyers, “current events calendars” in local newspapers, and on radio and TV stations are helpful tools in letting the public know what is taking place. Don’t forget to invite the media, newspaper, radio and even TV to the event.
When writing to candidates to request their participation in the forum, make sure they know they must respond by a certain date. If they do not respond, take a moment to call them to see if they will be attending or not. Often, candidates for higher office will send a member of their campaign staff to the forum, with instructions on how to answer. Although this is an acceptable practice, it does not give your organization much ground to stand on later, if the candidate back pedals from the answers at the forum. If you choose not to allow replacements, you should let the candidate know in the invitation, and allow them to make a written statement if some previous commitment prohibits their actual participation.
It is generally considered best not to divulge the questions in advance. This way the organization gets a chance to see how each candidate will react in the real world. It is possible to have the questions come from the audience directly. Remember to ask the same question of EACH candidate, unless the question is specific to the office sought.
Since we are interested in finding out the candidate’s views on the issue ofthe expansion of gambling, that should be the main focus of the questions directed at them Depending on the number of candidates attending, ask no more than 5 or 6 questions If you have trouble thinking of questions you can refer to the ILLCAAP Candidate Survey that was sent to members of the General Assembly. Regardless of whether you use the ILLCAAP question, or make up some of your own, avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
Each candidate should be given a certain amount of time, usually no more than 5 minutes, for opening remarks. Appoint someone from your organization to sit in front of the candidates with a stop watch to keep the time for the speakers. Let each candidate know about a minute before their time is up, so they can close their remarks, if necessary. This ensures fairness for all candidates.
Please be fair in the order in which the candidates answer questions. If the first question is answered in the A,B,C order, then the second question should be answered C,B,A order, etc. Do not feel that you must ‘pit’candidates for the same position against one another, having them always speak together. That is not necessary and turns the forum from an exchange of information into a debate.
Finally, allow each candidate an opportunity to make closing remarks. This should be approximately the same amount of time given for opening remarks.
If you wish, a simple reception following the forum is a nice chance for mingling. Coffee, tea and cookies are all that is required for such a reception. If you are unable to provide refreshments, it is still a nice idea to allow time for people to mingle before the doors of the location are locked. Afterwards, send a note of thanks to each candidate who attends.
You Will Also Need:
- A host or Master of Ceremonies. This person should greet the audience, introduce the candidates, giving their name and office sought (long introductions should be avoided) and make the transitions between questions and remarks.
- Copies of the questions. If you have the questions ahead of time and are not taking them from the audience, it is best to give each candidate a copy when they arrive. That way, you don’t have to waste time asking the question of each candidate as they take their turn to answer. You may even want to make extra copies for the audience, so that they can make notes.